By John Woolfolk
Federal authorities Tuesday are poised to declare Internet phone
service off-limits to state regulators.
Providers call the move critical to the fast-growing industry's
development, but consumer advocates fear it will unfairly burden those
who place calls the old-fashioned way.
New Jersey-based Vonage, a leader in the field of Web-based phoning
known as Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP, has asked the Federal
Communications Commission to declare it an interstate information
service exempt from state regulation.
"The decision before the FCC is critical, and very serious," said
Bruce P. Mehlman, a director of the Internet Innovation Alliance, a
trade group favoring light regulation. "The question for regulators
is: Do we treat it like telecommunications, taxing it and regulating
it heavily, or like information technology, keeping our hands off and
letting market-based innovation benefit everyone?"
Internet calling hooks standard phones to an adapter and broadband
connection. The adapter converts the voice signal to data packets and
sends them over the Internet to a service provider, where they are
converted back and sent on the traditional phone network to the
The FCC decision is important for Silicon Valley, home to many VoIP
providers and companies involved in the technology, said California
Public Utilities Commissioner Susan Kennedy.
"It's very important that the FCC establish a uniform national
framework in which VoIP can be allowed to thrive," Kennedy said.
Consumer advocates say exempting VoIP from state regulation and
treating it as an information service more like e-mail lets providers
avoid paying for the traditional public switched phone network -- even
though they still use it to complete their calls.
[Jack Decker Comment: Makes you wonder where some of these so-called
"consumer advocates" are getting their funding, doesn't it? If they
wanted to take the high road, they could advocate that all these
additional taxes and fees be abolished on all forms of communications.
But some of these "consumer advocates" are getting paid to advocate on
issues related to the PSTN, and if the the PSTN diminishes in
importance, so do they.
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